"you can—and probably should—be incorporating this stuff into almost everything you cook." Elazar Sontag - Serious Eats
Not in this house we won't for the two equally important reasons that it is very, very spicy - there is a colossal amount chilli in there - which is not allowed in this house; but also because I'm not at all sure where you can buy it around here - not in the local supermarkets, that's for sure. Maybe when we eventually all come out of lockdown we might be able to go to Doncaster and perhaps find it there. Or maybe the local deli has it although they are really not very adventurous there and don't seem to sell much that you can't get in Coles - or a version thereof. I don't know. You could probably get it in Leo's in Kew. You can buy it online from Salumi, but although they do go on about how artisan and authentic it is they don't tell you how much it costs. Well not just from looking anyway - which makes me feel rather suspicious. Actually when I think of it there was a salumeria in nearby Templestowe. They might have it, although they may well not have survived COVID. I've never been in there so I don't know how adventurous they are.
Anyway even though this particular post was inspired by a recipe from an old delicious. magazine, the recipe itself - Pappardelle with roast nduja and tomato sauce (and it does look nice enough) - is not the reason for this post. No, what I really bookmarked it for was the nduja. This is a delicious. magazine recipe from 2015 in a section on ten 'designer' ingredients - i.e. trendy ingredients. I had come across nduja here and there - mostly with Jamie Oliver I think - and noted it down as a potential topic, so seeing the recipe was a nudge in that direction. Did it ever become trendy here?
Now I'm not going to tell you much about it because Elazar Sontag of Serious Eats does a pretty comprehensive job. No this is going to just be some random thoughts about other associated things.
Starting with some thoughts on where it comes from - Calabria. It is, of course, very ancient and peasant food. Very basic peasant food. It's made from the last scraps of the pig after everything else has been sold or made into hams and salamis - bits of the head and probably other offal, mixed with scraps of meat from here and there, and a lot of fat. Salt and a ton of chilli - well not literally a ton - but lots are added. One source seemed to think it was one part chilli to two parts meat. It's all minced together and pushed into pig's intestines, and then fermented for a while, before being hung to dry. Basic.
And cheap - seeing as it's made from the least loved bits of the animal. It's the fat which makes it so soft and spreadable. Yes this is how the peasants mostly eat it - on toast, which has apparently, in some places, given it the nickname Calabrian vegemite. So yes it sort of looks a lot like chorizo, and tastes a bit like it, but it just a whole lot softer - spreadable, and very, very simple in its ingredients.
It specifically comes from the small town of Spilinga, not very far from the Calabrian coast, where just about every family would kill a pig once a year and make use of every last scrap of it. The last scraps being made into nduja. At some point somebody discovered it and its fame gradually spread throughout Italy and then the world - as Italian foods tend to do. Did the original makers get anything out of this? No I don't think so. Not even the coveted DOP - anyone can make nduja or something like nduja and call it nduja. I think they may even be able to call it Spilinga nduja. Which doesn't really seem quite fair. Spilinga has made a big thing out of it of course, - there is a festival and some is produced there and sold as the genuine thing. Hopefully for them, at a high price. It's probably more or less as always made, although these days better quality meat is used.
"the original recipe of ‘Nduja is very different from today’s recipe, just like many other cold cuts and cured meats born in peasants’ kitchen, which are now coveted by the greatest chefs in the world." Italy Bite
Below is a picture of the real thing with the real chilli - a specific type grown in one place only.
It is an interesting question isn't it? Should the 'inventors' of some delicacy get special treatment, which will, of course, allow them to charge more? Something like a DOP usually comes with pretty strict restrictions on the production process - what goes into it, how it is made, etc., which whilst rewarding people for the original idea doesn't really allow any innovation or improvement. Mind you in the case of nduja, indeed of most of those labelled things, the original recipes are ancient and so you would have thought, improved over time. But nevertheless it is indeed possible to improve upon anything, particularly with modern equipment and techniques - even the produce involved. Yes a lot of mass-produced stuff is rubbish, but a lot of it is definitely not. Of course you get the usual arguments from the originators about inferior meat, inferior imported chilli and so on but then again why should imported chilli - from the place where chilli originated in fact, be inferior? I guess the only real crimes here are not giving DOP recognition to the originators, and allowing the real cheats and fraudsters to call their product Spilinga nduja. Because they can. So if you are really after the original, check in the small print where it is produced.
It can't all be produced in Spilinga because according to one article that I read, every Italian household has some in their cupboard, and if you are to believe people like Jamie Oliver, it's ridiculously cheap and available everywhere over there in the UK. America too - which country doubtless manufactures their own.
As to the stuff that is made elsewhere this would probably divide into those who just mass produce a perfectly viable product that you or I might use, and the stuff that is handcrafted, artisan, made from rare-breed pigs who are lovingly raised in green, green pastures and a rare kind of chilli that is the only one to use. And only available in exclusive shops like Simon Johnson, or online.
Or you can have a go yourself. Kuba Winkowski on The Great British Chefs website has a recipe for Homemade nduja which he claims is really simple and then says things like:
"If you don't have a curing chamber then you can hang it in the fridge for a fresher final product." Kuba Winkowski
Who has their own curing chamber? Is this the latest must have along with the outdoor kitchen, the pizza oven and the glassed in wine cellar for every new home?
One thing that everyone seems to be unanimous about though is that if you have this in your cupboard you will never look back. Your cooking will lift to a new level and you will become addicted.
"Soon after your tongue grazes over ‘nduja’s soft meaty texture, its high chilli content should heat your throat. If you close your eyes, you may notice a dot of sweetness underlying the feisty product. Herein lies ‘nduja’s hook – the traditional inclusion of hot and sweet pepperoncini (red peppers) ensures that the spreadable salami leaves you with a manageable chilli kick that’s so addictive, you’ll be hanging for more." Adam Liaw
Or you can really cheat and make Spicy salami spread, from Chef John who says of it:
"I'm not saying this spicy salami spread is as good as traditional nduja, but it does take about 3 months' less time to make while still delivering most of the characteristics that make the Calabrian delicacy so amazing."
Way to go perhaps - you could regulate the chilli to your taste too. But then it wouldn't be nduja. So first you have peasants labouring away for centuries to make use of every scrap of food they can. Then some modern foodie entrepreneur discover it and and industrialisation follows - some following the original methods, some not. People improve, change slightly, add things, use different stuff and different techniques, and eventually you get to the above spicy salami - at which point it is no longer nduja. But then it probably wasn't really nduja long before then.
Valid all the same as a food worth eating so they say. Alas I shall never know - unless I come across it in a restaurant some day - if I'm ever allowed in one again.